The Chicago Bears today conducted the sixth practice of 2014 Training Camp. It was a warm, sunny morning, with temperatures hovering in the high 70s throughout the session. Attendance peaked at 7,500.
OL Eben Britton (hamstring) was not in attendance and there is no timetable for his return.
CB Tim Jennings (quad) dressed and participated in positional drills, as well as the first few team sessions. He then sat out the rest of practice.
NOTES FROM DAY 6
-It appears the punt returner competition has been whittled down to just two players: Chris Williams and Micheal Spurlock. During punt drills, those were the only players returning kicks. Both Williams and Spurlock have looked good as receivers as well, so this could be a battle that continues well into the preseason.
-Here is today’s starting field goal unit: Dante Rosario, James Brown, Jordan Mills, Matt Slauson, Chad Rempel (long snapper), Roberto Garza, Jermon Bushrod, Michael Ola, Martellus Bennett, Tress Way (holder) and Robbie Gould.
This was Ola’s first appearance of camp on special teams, replacing Britton on the offensive line. Ola is also in the running for the swing guard position, so his odds of making the team are getting better by the day.
-With the second-team field goal unit was Jeremiah Ratliff. It’s rare a 32-year-old, four-time Pro Bowler who is starting at defensive tackle takes backup reps on special teams. There is a lot of unselfishness with Ratliff.
During one snap of team drills, Ratliff got caught up in the wash of players on an outside run and hit the deck. He quickly got up and, even though the play was essentially over, he sprinted 30 yards to meet the ball carrier. It was leadership by example.
On a rep shortly thereafter, Ratliff again turned to sprint after a running back down the field. Roberto Garza, not wanting to be out-done, ran stride for stride with Ratliff for 25 yards. It was a solid showing of veteran leadership by two of the team’s elder statesmen.
-I sat near coordinator Aaron Kromer as he conducted zone-blocking drills with offensive tackles and tight ends. Two players lined up side by side with a defender in a down position in front of them and a linebacker three yards deep. The tackle and tight end doubled the defensive end off the ball. The tackle then peeled off to the second level for the linebacker.
What was interesting about this drill was the importance Kromer put on angling the defensive end outside with the double team.
“You have to force the [linebacker] to play inside by forcing the [defensive end] out,” Kromer said.
It was solid insight into Kromer’s scheme. By pressing the defensive end out wide, the linemen are able to cut off the linebacker’s pursuit angle to the outside. If that forces him to cut inside, then the Bears have won, as there will be nobody to tackle Matt Forte once he turns the corner.
-With Britton and Long out, Brian de la Puente served as the starting right guard throughout practice.
-Here is today’s second-team offensive line: LT Michael Ola, LG James Brown, C Taylor Bogs, RG Dylan Clady, RT Charles Leno Jr.
-Charles Tillman had his first “Peanut Punch” of camp, knocking a ball away from Eric Weems and returning it 70 yards for a touchdown.
-The Bears conducted 1-on-1 blitz drills pitting linebackers against running backs and tight ends. The most impressive back was Tony Fiammetta, who on one snap rode Lance Briggs out of the pocket and drove him into the ground. The best blocking tight end, by far, was Martellus Bennett, who stymied nearly every player he faced.
Of the linebackers, Shea McClellin looked the worst. Harkening back to his days of playing defensive end, McClellin could not get off his block and was stuffed on all three of his blitz attempts. Conversely, Khaseem Greene looked very good as a blitzer and showed impressive upper body strength.
The surprise performer of the bunch was LB DeDe Lattimore, a UDFA who has been working with the third team. Lattimore showed outstanding quickness and agility during the drills.
-TE Matthew Mulligan took a handful of reps with the first team today. His starter snaps increase each day.
-The offensive and defensive lines conducted 1-on-1 drills also. Here are my notes from that session:
-Jordan Mills has resorted to holding as the only way to stop Lamarr Houston, who has been borderline unstoppable for most of camp.
-Jeremiah Ratliff used a wicked swim move to fly right past de la Puente.
-Matt Slauson was a wall blocking Will Sutton, who could not get any penetration.
-Jermon Bushrod, as he’s done all camp, dominated Jared Allen coming off the left edge.
-Charles Leno Jr. struggles with inside moves. He’s solid coming around the edge but he can’t adjust and mirror defenders when they rush inside. Today, Willie Young set up Leno Jr. with an outside-shoulder rush and then easily cut back inside for what would have been a sack.
-In a positive sign for rookie Ego Ferguson, who has struggled mightily in pass-rush drills to this point, he was able to swim past Taylor Boggs on one rep. The kid is getting better.
-Nate Collins isn’t showing the same quickness he did a few days ago. He had very little success today and you have to wonder how sore the knee has become now that we’re fully in the grind of camp.
-Brandon Dunn was able to easily work past the new guy, Graham Pocic, on two straight snaps.
-Ryan Groy is not an NFL offensive lineman. He lunges and has horrible balance. He’ll be on the first line of cuts.
-When Taylor Boggs gets his feet under him, he’s able to sink his hips and can anchor very well.
-On one snap during team drills, LB DJ. Williams showed blitz in the B gap across from LG James Brown. At the snap, Williams hesitated and Brown lunged at him. Williams then easily cut inside, leaving Brown with a handful of air.
Brown needs to raise his level of play if he’s going to maintain his roster spot this season.
-RB Shaun Draugh is a name few folks are discussing but he’s been steadily climbing the depth chart. He’s a very physical runner with three years NFL experience, which has served him well the past week.
Today, Draughn took a number of snaps with the first team. In fact, during a two-minute drill, Draughn was used as the No. 1 running back for the entirety of the drill.
He’s not going to de-seat Matt Forte the starting position but Draughn is now firmly entrenched in the battle to be the backup runner in Chicago.
-On one snap, Draughn caught a swing pass and took off up the sideline. LB Khaseem Greene met him about 15 yards up the field, just a few feet from where I was standing, and punched Draughn right in the chest attempting to knock the ball out. It was an absolutely brutal hit up close, one that forced Draughn to his knees.
Being so close to the action, even in a non-contact practice, reminds you of football’s extreme violence.
-During 11-on-11s, Forte cleared the backfield and ran a V route toward the inside of the field. As soon as he made his cut, QB Jay Cutler fired the pass his way. Safety M.D. Jennings was man-to-man with Forte and read the play so well, he would have been called for pass interference.
Yet even though Jennings mauled Forte and got his hand around the runner’s body, Forte somehow still made the catch. It was an outstanding grab but it also shows Jennings’ inability to make plays, giving us a glimpse of how a two-year starter in Green Bay can accumulate just two total pass breakups.
-In a positive sign for WR Chris Williams, he took a couple of first-team snaps in bunch formations with Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson. The more Williams can show his value as a receiver, the better his odds of winning the kick and punt returner roles.
-In team drills, WR Micheal Spurlock ran a flag route toward the sideline. Safety Adrian Wilson was in the vicinity but broke late on the pass and could not make a play on the ball. Spurlock elevated on the high throw and made a nice grab in bounds.
This play shows two things. The first is that Spurlock can play. He’s made a number of nice grabs as a wide receiver with the second team and, like Williams, is one of the frontrunners to earn a return job.
The second is Wilson’s lumbering playing style. He might be a force in the box but it’s hard to imagine him making plays against some of the game’s top receivers.
-When Ego Ferguson stays low off the ball, he’s nearly unstoppable. On one snap, he fired into the backfield on an off-tackle play and hit the runner immediately after he took the handoff. He’s a project but Ferguson’s potential as a run stopper is immense.
-When the defense deploys its pass-rush sub package – LDE Willie Young, LDT Lamarr Houston, RDT Jeremiah Ratliff, RDE Jared Allen – they use a lot of stunts with the front four. So far, these crosses and loops have given then offensive line fits.
In this package, the Bears won’t be using a base pass rush with four guys moving in linear directions. It appears coordinator Mel Tucker is going to get creative when he’s looking to get after the quarterback.